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BHSA and hunting’s desperate bid to save itself

The British Hound Sports Association (BHSA), hunt’s so-called ‘governing’ body, has released details of its “Autumn Campaign” in the run up to the next General Election. The campaign focuses on proving to the world – and particularly Labour candidates – that ‘trail hunting’ is legal. As people who care deeply about wildlife, we should pay attention to this tactic.

The last two hunting seasons have been disastrous for the hunting industry’s public relations. Mainstream media coverage – of a fox being buried alive in a sack, and of foxes being dug out and torn apart by hounds – have exposed to the world just how criminal hunters are. This coverage has, no doubt, influenced the Labour party into announcing that it will ban hunting with dogs – properly this time – if it gets into power. It is thought that there is a 99% chance that Labour will form the next government, so the hunting industry is, of course, terrified that its time is up.

 

 

The BHSA’s tactic? To convince Labour candidates that it shouldn’t touch the Hunting Act. To do this, it will try to convince them that ‘trail hunting’ is harmless, legitimate fun.

A thought-out plan to continue killing

We all know that hunts have always insisted that they are trail hunting – laying a scent in advance of the hunt for their hounds to follow – when they have been doing no such thing. But with the final nail in hunting’s coffin in sight, the BHSA is now actually encouraging packs to trail hunt. But let’s be clear: this isn’t because the BHSA has suddenly grown a conscience, nor is it because it wants to protect wildlife.

Earlier in the 2023/24 hunting season, Protect the Wild pointed out that we were seeing more hunts actually laying trails. It is a tactic so that hunters can prove to Labour, and to the court system, that they never intend to kill a fox – that their hounds are following a genuine trail, and that any kills are purely accidental. Because under the Hunting Act, a person only commits a crime if the Crown Prosecution Service can prove that there is an intention to kill a mammal.

But as South Norfolk Hunt Saboteurs pointed out to Protect the Wild:

“Because the trail mixture used by the hunt is of animal-origin, the hunt is still essentially training hounds to hunt animals.”

And this hunting season, the group has seen firsthand how hunts deliberately lay trails next to coverts, where they know animals will be. But if their hounds then flush out and chase one of these animals, the hunt can then plead that it wasn’t deliberate.

Trail hunting? The Zetland Hunt hounds searching for a mythical ‘trail’. Photo Teesside Against Blood Sports

 

Still a loophole

In its campaign announcement, the BHSA has stated that it wants to “have made our mark with [election] candidates.” To do this, it plans:

“To show and prove that trail hunting and exempt hunting, properly conducted following clear protocols, is a legal sport and not, as claimed by the antis, a loophole.”

But trail hunting didn’t exist before the Hunting Act was brought in. It was exactly that: a loophole so that hunters could continue terrorising wildlife even with the legislation in place. The laying of a scent in trail hunting is done completely for appearances.

In his memoir, A Journey, Tony Blair wrote that he devised the Hunting Act

“in such a way that, provided certain steps are taken to avoid cruelty when the fox is killed, it isn’t banned.”
He even made a bet with then-Prince Charles, pledging that hunting would still continue after the Act came into force. He was, of course, right.

Labour brought in the ‘trail hunting’ loophole. And now the BHSA is trying to convince this very party that trail hunting is, in fact, not a loophole at all!

If the BHSA was actually serious about showing that hunting is a legal sport, it would be ensuring that hunts turn to drag hunting – a legitimate alternative to real hunting. If a pack was drag hunting, hounds would follow a non-animal scent on a designated course that avoids known wildlife habitats.

Desperate to appeal to Labour

The BHSA continued:
“We now call for no changes in the Hunting Act that affect either drag hunting, trail hunting or exempt hunting, all legal sporting activities. To be clear, we are not calling for repeal or amendment of the Act…”
And:
“In September we will be writing to all candidates and will be sending out a flyer to all hunts for distribution. Our trail hunting demonstration days have gone very well. They have attracted good media attention from both the press and television. They have successfully demonstrated how trail and drag hunting is legally conducted.”
But Beds and Bucks Hunt Saboteurs hit the nail on the head when it responded to this, saying:
“These so called trail hunting demonstrations have been little more than poorly attended events where bored onlookers pay more attention to their limp and sweaty sandwiches than the hounds and its so VERY obvious these hound packs have never followed a trail in their lives. We’ve witnessed first hand with our local packs pretending to lay trails, the hounds ignore them and given the opportunity will take off after the wildlife with great gusto! You can’t change decades of breeding and training overnight.”

Wynnstay Hunt trespasses on National Trust land
Trail hunting? The Wynnstay Hunt coming out of the National Trust’s Erddig Estate. Photo via Cheshire Borderland Monitors

 

The Blackmore and Sparkford Vale hounds kill a fox. Drone footage by North Dorset Sabs
Trail hunting? The Blackmore and Sparkford Vale hounds kill a fox. Drone footage by North Dorset Sabs

 

All out for 14 September!

The BHSA has announced that it will hold a national day of action. It says:

“Our plan is to hold on September 14th, just before the Party Conference Season, a National Trail and Drag Hunting Day. Our aim is to have an event in most Police Districts. Over 20 venues, with several hunts demonstrating at each. We want every hunt, including foxhounds, harriers, beagles, bassets, mink hounds, stag hounds and fell packs, to attend in their area even if they are not demonstrating how to lay and hunt a trail. We will invite the media, the Police, Police Commissioners, all candidates, local councillors and we want it well attended by hunt subscribers and supporters. We aim to make a huge impact before the start of the election campaign.”

Attendance numbers are vital for the BHSA’s plan of action. But it will, no doubt, attract more hunt saboteurs and monitors – who will want to keep their close eye on all the packs around the country – than it will pro-hunters.

  • As for Labour, we can only hope that its politicians are smart enough not to be influenced by the hunting lobby. The party will feel under immense pressure not to touch the Hunting Act. But if Labour is serious about protecting England and Wales’ wildlife, it will enact our Proper Ban on Hunting and ban hunting with dogs once and for all.